Success Story

Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO)

Russian River Watershed

The Russian River watershed encompasses Lake Mendocino, where initial research in flood control, water supply and recreational needs was conducted under the FIRO project. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Finding a workable balance between enforcing flood control measures and ensuring adequate water reserves has been a perpetual challenge for state, county, and federal agencies. To achieve better balance, an interagency partnership in northern California is now completing a full viability assessment of a novel management strategy informed by sharing state-of-the-art tools from science and technology, and leveraging the expertise of government and university scientists, engineers, and water managers.

An interagency Steering Committee, created in 2014, began exploring methods to optimize water management at Lake Mendocino reservoir. Called Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO), the collaborative study sought improved local water supplies, reduced flood risk, and added ecosystem benefits. Combining the best available computer modeling, advanced climate forecasting, watershed monitoring techniques, and other technical inputs from several science-based agencies, the FIRO partnership reported in a preliminary viability assessment (August 2017) that the new strategy offers significant advances.

FIRO participants share their technologies and knowledge within a complex but robust partnership with impressive results. The FIRO partners include: Center for Western Water and Weather Extremes (CW3E) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego; Sonoma Water; California Department of Water Resources; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Weather Service/Earth System Research Laboratory/National Marine Fisheries Service; U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The project engages a network of experts in biology, economics, climate, civil engineering, hydrology, meteorology, and computing from federal, state, and local agencies, as well as universities and other stakeholders safeguarding water resources and healthy ecosystems. Transferability potential of the effort is being tested now at additional reservoirs, including Prado Dam in southern California and at Oroville and New Bullards Bar dams in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The FIRO strategy’s use of the best available technology also has wider applicability to any situation balancing weather-affected water supplies, environmental issues, flood risk reduction, and dam safety. More broadly, FIRO is changing the way the study partners and other water and flood management officials expect to integrate emerging R&D from government and nongovernment researchers.

NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) Global
Forecast System (GFS) model forecast of integrated water vapor (IWV)
from an atmospheric river (AR) predicted to impact northern California
on 19 January 2017. The term “pineapple express” comes from ARs
frequently appearing to originate near the Hawaiian Islands.

The FLC nominees’ respective institutions are longtime innovators in the specific science, engineering, and technology areas used in developing the FIRO strategy. As examples, a primary mission of the Army Corps of Engineers is planning, designing and operating dams and flood prevention systems. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service is deeply involved in recovery of three endangered fish species that depend on the Russian River, and the agency’s Office of Atmospheric Research leads U.S. research on weather model improvements. Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey have been involved in hydrologic monitoring and research in the Russian River watershed for over a decade, including development of soil moisture monitoring methods and modeling of rainfall, soil moisture, and water flow.